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It is a pleasure to follow so many excellent maiden speeches.
Following the announcement on HS2, may I once again mention that if HS2 is to have value for my constituents in the Middlewich area, there is a pressing need to reopen Middlewich railway station to passengers? I have spoken about this issue many times since becoming an MP 10 years ago, and the proposal also has the continuing support of many MPs from around the Cheshire area. It has been the subject of a long-running and admirable campaign by Middlewich residents, first under the title of “Middlewich rail link campaign” and now with the name “Mid Cheshire rail link campaign”. It was renamed in recent years to reflect that the proposal is more broadly supported by those further afield in Cheshire. I hope that my account will encourage new colleagues when it comes to transport issues and calls for support for new transport in their areas—persevere!
When I first heard of the Middlewich rail link campaign, I was invited to a meeting in the Boars Head pub in Middlewich. About six train enthusiasts were sat there—all men, I have to say. They told me about their dream of reopening the station in Middlewich—I did think it was a dream. However, after a few years, because of their and others’ determination to continue to campaign, there is now a real prospect that that dream may become a reality. The station is very much needed, as more house building in the region has increased pressure on the roads.
Let me tell the House a little bit of the history of the campaign. In March 2013, I was given a petition of thousands of local signatories calling for the reopening of the station. I was proud to be able to present that petition here, with the support of all the MPs from the surrounding area. The campaign then gathered further strength and, following lobbying to Cheshire East Council, an area was earmarked for the station in the local plan. Subsequently, Ministers—I hesitate to say that they were perhaps worn down by my calls in this place for support—responded by providing a Government-funded feasibility study, the “Mid Cheshire and Middlewich Rail Study Strategic Case Report”, which reported in March 2019. This was—perhaps to the surprise of one or two bureaucrats, shall I say?—both positive and encouraging. I will briefly quote from the report as evidence. It just goes to show that sometimes local people do know what they are talking about, doesn’t it? In somewhat bureaucratic writing—I have tried to pick out parts that are not quite so bureaucratic—the report says:
“The presence of major advanced manufacturing and life science clusters around Middlewich and the wider area means that it is imperative to improve connectivity between jobs, housing and leisure at both strategic and local level…There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that the transport network in Mid Cheshire is inadequate to serve both its current population and its economic ambition. A very low percentage rail mode share…coupled with numerous congestion hotspots…point to a transport system that will suppress growth in the near future, if not already doing so. Through national, regional and local transport strategies, there is a clear message that transport connectivity in general, and rail connectivity as the more sustainable option over road, should be invested in. As such there is a commitment nationally to continue to invest in the rail network. Large infrastructure projects such as HS2 are at the core of this commitment, but it is equally clear that locally and regionally, the strategic direction is for investment in rail to connect to and maximise the benefits of these nationally significant infrastructure projects. With their vicinity to Crewe, Mid Cheshire and Middlewich can demonstrate their alignment to this strategic direction at the highest level.”